Only it wasn't human sized. It was bird-sized.
And either that bird had weird roosting habits, or our vampire had been a shifter before he'd undergone the change. It would certainly explain why Kade had been unable to find anything when he'd done the search. A roosting bird probably wouldn't emit much in the way of emotions, and Kade certainly wouldn't have been looking for something that size.
I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my laser, flicking it on as the weapon settled into my palm. As I did so, the bird squawked and took flight. Not flying away, but coming straight at me. The vampire had balls, I had to give him that - especially given a pigeon wasn't exactly as threatening as a bird of prey.
I ducked under his swoop, then twisted around and fired. The red beam flashed out, briefly giving the shadows an eerie glow as the shot clipped the bird's wings. Feathers fluttered downward as it squawked and awkwardly tried to fly down the hall. I fired again, but the bird dropped at the wrong moment, and the laser sliced though the edges of a dancing skeleton. I swore softly and ran after the bird.
"Kade," I said, keeping the creature in sight but not firing, "he's on the run. He's also a pigeon."
"A pigeon? Good lord, that's almost as bad as a seagull. No wonder he became a vampire."
He wasn't getting an argument out of me. A seagull might be one of my alternate forms these days, but I had something of a love-hate relationship with it.
"He's going to have to shift shape to come out these doors," Kade continued. "I'm ready and waiting."
"You always are," I said, ducking under the ghostly tendrils of fake cobwebs.
Kade's laughter rolled through my inner ear. I fired the laser again. This time the bright beam clipped tail feathers before slicing into a bed that came complete with a white draped body hung with cobwebs.
The vampire squawked and fluttered to the ground, landing rather ungracefully on the old wooden track. I slid to a stop and trained the laser onto him.
"Directorate," I said, my voice edged and low. "Whoever you are, shift shape or you'll die in bird form."
He hopped around until he faced me, his beady black eyes glaring somewhat balefully.
"Your choice," I said, pressing my finger against the trigger. The whine of the weapon powering up cut through the surrounding noise, and the pigeon hopped backwards in surprise.
After a moment, a shimmer rolled across his bloody feathers, hiding his form, reshaping it, until what stood in front of me was cloaked in human skin.
Only it wasn't a man, but a boy. A child. A cute, cherub-cheeked child with golden hair and big blue eyes.
A kid this size could certainly survive on a diet of pigeon and seagull blood, although it was still odd no one noticed the steady supply of dead birds.
Then the adorable image shattered when he snarled, revealing teeth that were long and pointed and every inch a vampire's. He came at me, fast and furious, and though I had my finger pressed against the laser, I didn't fire.
It was a kid, and I couldn't shoot a kid. I didn't want to shoot a kid - even one that was a feral vampire attacking other children.
Surely there was hope for him. Surely there was a chance...
I jumped as a gunshot boomed through the darkness. The breeze of it burned past my ear, signifying the bullet was silver, then the little vampire went down. The back of his head disappeared, splattering a mess of blood and bone and gore across a somewhat macabre collection of dolls with revolving heads.
For a moment, I simply stared, disbelief and horror churning my gut. Then I swung around. Kye stood several yards behind me, his face expressionless, but cold fury in his eyes.
"Don't ever hesitate," he warned softly. "Bad things happen when you hesitate."
"It was a kid," I all but yelled. "Goddammit, Kye, you shot a kid."
"That kid was a vampire attacking other children. Remember who we're trying to save here, Riley."
The laser whined as my finger twitched against it. It was tempting, so tempting, to just raise the weapon and shoot the cold-hearted bastard. I switched it off instead. As much as I might want to shoot Kye, a guardian who killed without reason wasn't long for this earth. Besides, he was my soul mate, and killing him meant I'd be basically killing myself. And I wasn't ready to die just yet.
"The kid hadn't killed yet," I spat. "He might have been saved."
"You can't ever chance that." His gaze swept me, followed sharply by his hunger. I half expected him to close the distance between us and kiss me, but he shook his head and stepped back instead. "You're a guardian, Riley. A protector of humans, not vampires."
"Don't fucking tell me how to do my job."
"Someone has to." He glanced behind me, then gave me a sketchy salute. "Consider this payment for the information you owe me. And you will meet me with it later tonight, or I shall be forced to take other steps."
Something went cold inside. Coming from a hired killer, those so called 'steps' could only mean one thing. "You touch anyone - "
"Oh," he said blandly, "I wouldn't touch anyone. Shooting, though, that's another matter. And we saw here today just how well a silver bullet can work against a vampire."
Sick fury filled me. I clenched my fists, digging my nails into my palms against the urge to use them against him instead.
"You wouldn't dare."
He merely raised an eyebrow. The fury within me got stronger.
"He's just as much my soul mate as you are, Kye. Are you willing to risk shooting him without knowing just how that will rebound to you?"
"Are you willing to bet on the fact that I'm not?"
He knew I wasn't. It was there in the victorious twitch of his lips. I hated him. I wanted him. God, did things have to get this twisted? "Where and when?"
"Five Proximity Drive, Brooklyn. One o'clock." He gave me another one of those cold-half smiles. "I'll even provide an after-midnight snack."
The hungry glitter in his eyes made it clear just what type of 'snack' he was referring to. "Don't bother, because there's nothing you could offer me that I'd actually want. Now get the hell out of here."
He stared at me for a moment longer, his gaze flat and yet so heated, sending alternating flashes of desire and annoyance surging through me. Then he turned on his heel and disappeared into the darkness.
"Why did you let him walk away?" Kade said from behind me. "You could have held him with a threat like that."
I shoved my laser into my pocket and turned around. My gaze fell on the remains of the cherub face at my feet, and all I felt was a useless sort of anger. Kye had been right about one thing - my hesitation had been fatal. Just not for me.
"I have no doubt that Kye has a herd of lawyers who could get him out of such charges inside a minute flat
. It isn't worth the hassle."
"You could just have shot him. I would have backed the shoot as justifiable."
I smiled. It probably looked as thin and humorless as it felt. "He's my soul mate. I might as well take a gun and shoot myself."
Kade frowned. "I thought that whole dying-when-your-mate-dies deal only happened when a wolf swears their love to the moon."
"Death is certain when that happens. There have been instances of unsworn wolves surviving the death of their mate, but right now, I'm not willing to take that chance."
"Good call. I don't think your brother would take your death too well." Which was the understatement of the century. Kade looked down at the limp little body. "And you wouldn't have been alone in hesitating."
It wasn't much, but it at least made me feel a little better. "Thanks."
He looked up and smiled. "Guardians need to do more than just shoot first and ask questions later. No matter what Jack or that dick you call a mate preaches, there will always be circumstances that cause hesitation." He hesitated himself, then added, "I guess this means we're going to have to track down his maker."
"I hope like hell someone else gets that task." If only because I didn't think I'd be able to control my anger if I found the vampire responsible for making - and then abandoning - the youngster.
"There are laws in place that should prevent these things occurring," Kade said, voice grim. "I don't think his maker is going to side-step the consequences."
"Good." It was vehemently said. I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Though it didn't help the anger, I felt a little less rattled. But no less sad for the little vampire who never got a chance.
I glanced at my watch, then said, "I've really got to go view those tapes. Can you call the clean up team in?"
He raised his eyebrows. "I was under the impression you wanted help with that."
"I did, but it might take a while to get a clean up team here, and Jack will not be a happy man if I haven't viewed the tapes by midnight." I hesitated, then added, "When you get the chance, could you glance through all the reports for the beheading case? It'll get you up to speed, and you might just catch something I've missed."
He nodded. "As long as Jack doesn't hand me another case as soon as I get back."
Given the backlog of cases we had, that was likely, but I knew Kade well enough to know that he'd still look through my case files.
Which would be good. I had a bad feeling I'd need the help if I was to have any hope of solving this one.
It was just before eleven when I arrived at Dante's, and the place was crowded. I slammed the car door shut and shoved the keys into my pocket as I walked towards the graffiti-covered building. A base beat that was both heavy and seductive crawled through the night, accompanied by the scent of desire and blood. Despite my distaste for what was happening inside the building, my pulse leapt and raced. I was a wolf, and desire was a scent as sweet to us as blood was to vampires.
If it had been the Blue Moon I was walking into rather than Dante's, I would have been tempted to pander to that surge of desire. But I had no intention of pursuing such a whim here - and not just because I distrusted strange vampires.
No, in this particular case, it was more not trusting myself if Dante made a serious attempt at seduction. The charged atmosphere, and the power of the man himself, was too dangerous a combination.
I showed my badge to the guy at the door, and he scowled as he opened the door. I carefully invaded his thoughts as I brushed past him. Hatred burned into my mind - hatred and anger. This vamp was one of the ones not overly pleased with the Directorate's execution of several vampires charged with killing blood whores.
Which made me wonder if he'd actually come to my aid if trouble hit inside - although I couldn't imagine Starke being happy if he didn't. After all, given the business he was running, he'd probably prefer to keep on the Directorate's good side - no matter what he might personally think about us.
Once inside, I waited until my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, then walked across to the bar. The same gum-chewing barman ambled up to serve me - although this time the towel he was using to dry the glass looked a whole lot cleaner.
"What can I do for you, Ms. Jenson?"
"Is your boss around tonight?"
He hesitated. "He is, but he's in a meeting and doesn't want to be disturbed."
Half of me wanted to use that as an excuse to just get the hell out of the place, but that would mean coming back a third time. "I need to see the security tapes your boss reckons he doesn't have. Can you arrange that, Boris?"
He raised a pale eyebrow, his blue eyes holding more than a little hint of amusement. "The boss said you'd be back for those. He left a message that you were to be directed into the security office and given the good coffee."
I snorted softly. "As if that's going to let him off the hook for giving me the run-around."
And given the apparent history between Jack and Dante, the only legitimate reason I think of for him doing something like that was to piss off Jack.
Boris's gum-chewing grin grew. "He also said that if you were still here after midnight, he would give you a more personal apology."
I glanced at my watch. I had fifty-eight minutes to get out of here, then. "I take it the tapes set up and ready to go?"
He nodded. "Security is the red door at the other end of the bar. I'll buzz them to let them know you're coming. Coffee will be along in five minutes."
"Thanks." I headed down towards the red door. The darkness seemed to get deeper the further into it I moved.
Many of the humans who were in the room wandered around like vapid ghosts, their expressions either edged with anxiety or pleasure, depending on where they were within their fix cycle. The cloying scent of blood and ecstasy mingled with undertones of hunger that were coming from the many vampires in the room, and despite my distaste for everything that was going on here, my pulse surged again. Desire - be it for blood or sex - was a powerful emotion, and no wolf was immune to its effects. Several vampires who leaned up against the bar about half way down the room stood up abruptly, their gazes swinging in my direction and teeth protruding in excitement. The scent of fresh, available blood did that to a vamp.
I got my badge out and held it up. It might be dark, but they'd see it well enough. "Sorry, boys, here on official business."
Their surge of excitement was snuffed out almost instantly. The lead vampire - a thin, brown haired man with a boyish face and ancient hazel eyes - looked me up and down, his lip curling in distaste.
"So you're one of those. Shame."